By James L. Curtis, Kerry M. Mohan, and Craig B. Simonsen

A circus “Hair Hang Act” performance took a dreadful turn when the apparatus the performers were hanging from suddenly fell to the ground.

The “human chandelier” act accident, the Agency alleges, occurred because the carabiner, a metal ring used as a connector, supporting the performers was improperly loaded. OSHA indicated that in violation of “industry practice” and the carabiner “manufacturer’s instructions,” the company improperly loaded the carabiner by “attaching two pear-shaped steel rings to the bottom of the carabiner, with each steel ring having three wire cables running from it to the corners of the rigging apparatus. This created a tri-axial loading situation as opposed to the proper loading situation where the carabiner is loaded only at two points along its major axis.” It’s alleged that this manner of loading resulted in the carabiner being overloaded, causing the carabiner to fail and all eight employees attached to the rigging to fall to the ground.

Concerning this incident, the OSHA Administrator, Dr. David Michaels, said “this catastrophic failure … clearly demonstrates that the circus industry needs a systematic design approach for the structures used in performances – approaches that are developed, evaluated and inspected by professional engineers.” “Employers must take steps to ensure this does not happen again.”

OSHA cited the employer for one serious safety violation with a proposed penalty of $7,000. In response to the citation, according to CNN, a spokesman for the circus said “we do not agree with the conclusion that … the way the carabiner was loaded was the sole case of the accident.” “The safety of our performers, our crew — as well as our audience — is our top priority.”

This case illustrates how, whether a local garage, a retailer, a shipping company, or an entertainment business, it is important to use and install equipment and machinery according to “industry practice” and “manufacturer’s instructions.” Otherwise, if accidents do occur because you have been “innovative” or have sought to “stretch” a part’s stated use, you may find yourself subject to an OSHA citation.

Further, this is another example of OSHA closely examining the business of the entertainment industry to issue citations. Thus, all employers in the entertainment industry must be aware that OSHA is paying attention to their practices and should take measures to ensure that their practices are OSHA compliant.